Despite its title [Then We Set His Hair on Fire – a reference to an accident that occurred on the set while shooting a Pepsi ad featuring Michael Jackson], this book is not advertising industry war stories but a paean to insight as the driving force behind all great advertising – and I would add, all great social marketing. Phil Dusenberry distinguishes early on between ideas ['valuable though they may be, are a dime-a-dozen in business'] and insights ['states a truth that alters how you see the world’]. To paraphrase him, a good idea may inspire a great tactic, but a good insight can power a program. Some of my former staff (and a few clients) may recall my interest in centipedes – those insights that suggest a thousand ideas or tactics.
Here’s how we developed the creative brief and what follows is the insight that emerged from that process for the National Cancer Institute’s 5 A Day Media Campaign:
Lack of top-of-mind awareness, physical invisibility, and perceived amount of effort and time posed obstacles to the target’s very positive intentions and preferences for fruits and vegetables over faster, less nutritious foods. The target audience was very much driven by a perceived scarcity of time. The team set the following action: Add two servings of fruits and vegetables 'the easy way instead of the hard way.'
Now the power of this insight isn’t that it is worthy of a Nobel Prize, it is what is suggests or implicates as the actions to pursue in all of our marketing and communication efforts. With 5 A Day, it was no longer about ‘eat your five servings of fruits and vegetables a day,' a message that we already knew was DOA with our target audience. Instead, our insight led us to focus on ‘adding two in easy ways’ that immediately prompted attention (the audience did have laudable aspirations to want to eat more healthy), provided suggested actions in a context that were relevant for the audience (making it tangible and easy), and were ‘achievable’ – or as the behavioral change theorist might put it, they had a high degree of confidence (or self-efficacy) that they could do what was suggested to them.
Phil is, as a creative director, an eager consumer of audience research – as are most good CDs I’ve known. The problem is what kind of research they’re looking for. As you might have guessed, it doesn’t involve a single mean, median or mode.
It is along this theme, that most audience research is too contrived, focused on the wrong questions, overly choreographed and dispassionately analyzed that Jon, Phil and I agree. I have literally had clients look over the table at me, say ‘I know we shouldn’t do this, but…' and then proceed to tally the responses to questions in a focus group – embracing those comfortable means, modes and medians instead of panning for the nuggets of truth and insight that come out of the mouths of the audience. Insight means getting closer to your audience; developing an empathy with them and not hiding behind numbers. As a professional photographer counsels people in taking better pictures: First thing, GET CLOSER!
…so much of what poses for research is little more than people seeking information that confirms their biases, their goals, their inclinations, and their decisions. It has nothing to do with acquiring new information. In a sense this is another form of ‘satisfaction research’; it only tells you what you’re doing right. This is not how great insights materialize. Insights come from owning up to what you’re doing wrong and addressing those problems in ways that matter.
There are many other insights and stories in this book that
make it worthwhile. Let’s leave with his
‘criteria for work that wouldn’t get out the door,' or what I suggest program planners
use as their 'program plans that won’t leave this office.'
- It’s dull, boring and unexciting (it doesn’t answer for the audience the ‘why should I pay attention or care’ question).
- It’s not differentiating (how does the behavior stand out from what they already do or have been told before to do?).
- It sounds, feels, or looks familiar (where’s the originality that will break through both the clutter and their filters?).
- It’s off strategy (how does it relate to the insight?).
- It’s reaching too hard (it’s not relevant to the audience’s daily life).
- It’s too expensive to do (yes, even the ad agencies think about it!).
- It’s offensive, tasteless (add your own political correctness templates).
- It’s not just a joke (“That’s a one-trick pony – a good idea for one spot but minus the legs to survive as a three year campaign.” Being engaging and entertaining and being funny are not necessarily the same thing – just ask your local gamer).
- It’s poorly executed (the tactics are just not well thought
The most dangerous work of all, though, is … the one that
meets all my criteria. It’s dangerous
because all those superior attributes might mask the fact that you are opting
for cleverness at the expense of human connection.